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Clara centella alcemos, que su fulgor avanza
mientras reptamos sucios, famélicos, atroces.
De las cegadas fosas parecen llegar voces.
Todo nos falta menos la esperanza.

Antonio Buero Vallejo
Extract from the poem “La Fundación”
El Urogallo Magazine, Number 33
May–June 1975

In memory of all of those who have
and will face the death penalty.
All of them were inhumanely treated.
All of them were unjustly executed.

Cándido Ibar. Cándido’s son Pablo Ibar was condemned to death in Florida. He has always maintained his innocence. By 2018 he will have already spent a total of 24 years in prison, 16 of them on death row.

Who Deserves to Die?

In his essay Reflections on the Guillotine, Albert Camus recounts one of the few anecdotes of his father told him by his mother. A few short months before he departed for the Front, from where he would never return, the city of Algiers was rocked by a terrible crime. A man had murdered a farmer and his entire family including two young children, for which he was condemned to death. Camus’ father was incensed by this appalling felony, and like many others he determined to watch the monster die. When the day of the execution came, Lucien Camus rose before dawn, dressed silently and walked into town. It was not some ghoulish fascination or thirst for bloody vengeance that drove him to attend the public execution, but the need to see outraged justice restored.

He never afterwards spoke to anyone about what he witnessed that day, the only time he attended an execution. Camus’ mother would only say that he ran all the way home, dumbstruck and agitated. He threw himself down on his bed but then suddenly started to vomit uncontrollably. He refused afterwards to say a word about what he had seen that day.

Years later Camus would write that it is hard to believe how the maximum penalty in law, established to protect the population, could possibly succeed in ensuring order and justice in society when it so sickened an honest, straightforward man like his father. His father’s nausea revealed the appalling truth about the guillotine: far from redressing a crime, an execution could only add another.

Joaquín José Martínez, a Spanish citizen sentenced to death in Florida who spent three years on death row before he could prove his innocence and obtain his release, was also a firm supporter of the death penalty. He believed in justice and, like Camus’ father, he thought capital punishment was just because it would provide closure for the victim’s family, provided of course that the condemned man had indeed committed the crime and had been defended by a competent lawyer. And of course, provided that his ability to defend himself was not undermined by degrading treatment in prison or a lack of medical attention. And that those appointed to decide who deserves to die are not moved by their own unconfessable interests and motives. And that everything works in a way that is very different from how things actually work in real life.

This book is aimed at people who may believe, as Joaquín José once did, that the death penalty is just –provided it is administered by the courts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each of the lives described in this book has played its part in convincing me that it matters not a jot how terrible a crime may have been, the death penalty will not provide justice but only retribution. Moreover, it is racist, classist, opportunistic and, above all, unspeakably inhumane and cruel. Far from offering the community protection, it horribly brutalizes society.

I have heard similar stories in every country where I have worked, however developed, and whatever the majority religion or the ideology of government. One in ten death row inmates in the United States is innocent and has been wrongfully convicted. This is a scandal of outrageous proportions. I have travelled to the US three times to listen to and photograph those innocents who have passed through hell and won their freedom, and who now dedicate their lives to the struggle for abolition, seeking to show that it was not mistakes that put them on death row but the nature of a judicial system that is riddled with indifference, negligence and corruption. Their struggle inspired my own work.

Even today, Japan labours under the oppressive consequences of a police and justice system that is simply not up to the task of administering the death penalty. It holds the shameful record of being the country which has held a prisoner on death row for the longest time: Iwao Hakamada spent 48 years awaiting execution. Could any crueller torture be imagined than to awaken each day in the fear that it will be your last for almost half a century? It was only the feebleness of the evidence and the public retraction of one of the court’s three judges that saved Iwao from hanging. He has never been exonerated of the crime, however. Since 2014 he has lived with his sister, waiting for the Japanese Supreme Court to decide whether or not he will be granted a retrial.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that still has the death penalty. It is also a dictatorship where judges lack the least shred of independence, where the death penalty is used for political purposes, and where information about executions remains a State secret. Thanks to Oleg Alkaev, the senior prison officer in charge of executions between 2001 and 2006, we now know that the pistol used to carry out death sentences was very probably the same one as used in extra-judicial killings of the regime’s opponents. This is yet another example of the impossibility of building an aseptic, just system of capital punishment.

Incredible though it may seem, numerous countries cling to the shabby structures surrounding the death penalty not out of conviction or wickedness but out of sheer poverty, so that the lack of adequate means stops them from reforming obsolete laws and policing methods. The Death Penalty Project, a British NGO working in the field of capital punishment, is an example of the extraordinary impact which cooperation can have in bringing about change. It
has succeeded, beginning with the altruistic defence of the Kafantayeni case, an isolated matter concerning a single individual, in creating settled case law that has obliged Malawi to make far-reaching reforms of its Penal Code, which would no doubt still be pending were it not for the donations and volunteer efforts that opened the door for Professor Sandra Babcock and her team to obtain retrials under the new legislation for almost all of the prisoners condemned to death in Malawi for crimes involving homicide.

This drive to modernize and humanize criminal law, and indeed all of the structures and circumstances surrounding capital punishment has made little headway in Iran. China may execute the most people, but Iran is the country whose citizens are proportionally most likely to face capital punishment. Over 130 offences still bear the death penalty. Criticizing the regime or defending human rights can still be treated as offences against Islam, which is a capital crime. It may be because of this that I was never granted a visa to visit the country after being invited by various Iranian human rights organizations. Nor were my applications turned down, however. They were simply never answered.

It was at that time that an Iranian citizen, condemned to death for a crime he committed at the age of fifteen but pardoned by the victim’s family after he had spent ten years in prison, had the courage to tell me his story over the telephone from inside Iran. Courage was needed, because he was taking his life in his hands. Because of it, I cannot publish his face or any of the family photographs he sent me. Nor can I reveal his name, but I have no doubt that he is an exceptional witness to police and institutional violence, to the horror of the prisons and to the executions that take place there. Two Iranian lawyers who assisted juvenile offenders in their country but now live in exile in Canada helped me flesh out the detail of what it means to defend cases like that of my anonymous informant or Behnoud Shojaee, who was cruelly executed in the worst circumstances imaginable. The picture they paint is neither pretty nor hopeful, but it becomes truly nightmarish when viewed in light of the harrowing experience of Marina Nemat when she was herself still a minor.

While I was writing up the stories told in these pages, I was reminded of the war correspondent Lee Miller, who was the first journalist to describe the horror of Dachau concentration camp immediately after it was liberated. Accompanying her report and photographs to the magazine Vogue, she sent a telegram that said simply, “I implore you to believe this is true.”

Sofía Moro

On Death Penalty

In my view, the death penalty persists because it is fueled by enduring myths that are nurtured by opportunistic politicians and accepted –and endorsed– by an ignorant public.

First, there is the deterrence myth. In response to the public’s complaints about violent crime, political leaders tout capital punishment as a necessary measure to deter would-be criminals and to punish violent offenders. They conveniently ignore the reams of studies that demonstrate the fallacy of the deterrence myth. Criminologists and sociologists –individuals who have studied the effect of penal sanctions on criminal behavior– overwhelmingly agree that there is no proof the death penalty deters.

Second, Proponents of the death penalty view people not in shades of gray, but in stark black and white. You are good, or you’re evil. I call this the myth of the ‘bad seed’ shared by all cultures and political ideologies. It explains the passivity of most people when an execution takes place. We believe that those who have been condemned to death are a step below the rest of humanity, that they are somehow different.

When we read about another execution in the United States, Japan or Malawi, what we picture to ourselves is not a human being but an unfeeling, pathological monster. But because executions are largely removed from the public eye, it allows even those of us who are intellectually opposed to the death penalty to maintain an emotional distance.

Finally, there is the myth of just desserts. Retentionist governments proclaim that only those who are truly deserving of the most severe punishment –the worst of the worst– are sentenced to die. But this, too, is belied by the data. Bryan Stevenson, a death penalty lawyer in the United States, often says that you’re more likely to be sentenced to death if you’re innocent and poor, than if you’re guilty and rich. But even when the accused is guilty, he is often condemned to death not because he is the ‘worst of the worst,’ the most depraved and despicable killer, but because he is poor, because he is mentally ill, because he is the wrong race, or because the elected prosecutor decides to seek the death penalty as a way of winning votes from a conservative electorate.

There are countless problems in the world that seem more worthy of our attention. Women are being raped by the tens of thousands in the Congo. Children are being sold into slavery in parts of South India and West Africa. The AIDS epidemic is claiming millions of lives. In comparison to these tragedies, the continued application of the death penalty seems almost inconsequential.

But there is something about capital punishment that sets it apart from other human rights violations. Unlike torture, unlike rape, unlike slavery, unlike human trafficking, unlike health epidemics caused by governmental negligence and mismanagement, the death penalty is the result of an intentional, deliberate, and premeditated government policy to deprive human beings of their most cherished and fundamental right: the right to life. It is the ultimate expression of governmental control and repression. It confers the most awesome power of all, absolute power to take human life. We should all be deeply afraid of any government that has the arrogance to believe that it can determine, to an utter certainty, whether a human being deserves to live or die.

The death penalty has another pernicious effect. It is the belief that some individuals are so incapable of redemption that they should be exterminated from the human race. This view has a profoundly corrosive effect not only on our criminal justice system, but on society as a whole. It is the opposite of hope. It is the antithesis of faith. It annihilates compassion. It is cynical to the extreme. It is pessimistic and nihilistic. It is the negation of humanity.

People often ask me how I can represent people on death row. They imagine they are monsters, violent and difficult to relate to. But it’s simply not true. My clients have taught me that there are no evil people in this world. I have known death row convicts both innocent and guilty, lawyers, activists and executioners, who are also victims of this process. None of these people was an unfeeling, cruel monster: they were all vulnerable and many had grown up with no opportunities in life, people who had made terrible mistakes at some stage in their lives. I believe we all have the capacity to do good, but we are also all capable of causing harm. According to Albert Camus, none of us has the right to set himself up as an absolute judge and to decide the elimination of the worst convicts, because none of us can aspire to absolute innocence. Let us fight against the death penalty. By doing so, we can make the world a more decent and less cruel place for everyone.

Sandra Babcock

Professor of Law at Cornell University in New York, where she teaches a Human Rights Clinic. Member of the International Academic Network for the Abolition of Capital Punishment.

Courage and Dignity

It is an honour to write an introduction to this very timely and wonderfully produced volume which combines the visual art of photography with a narrative of the people and places touched by the death penalty to highlight the situation of the death penalty and promote some arguments. As former Director General of UNESCO, I have found art and culture to be a very effective, visual, creative and yet powerful means to engage, provoke and spread awareness of many sensitive issues including the death penalty. Noting this link, on 25 January 2018, the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP or the Commission), of which I was the founding President from 2010 to 2017 and currently am the Honorary President, co-organized a round table panel discussion titled “Dead Man Walking: culture of violence, death penalty and redemption.” The round table featured the participation of Sister Helen Prejean and was organized at the Teatro Real in Madrid on the eve of the premiere staging of the opera version of her book Dead Man Walking. It was a great success as art combined with policy makers, survivors, activists in highlighting the concerns
on the issue of the death penalty.

I am happy to introduce this book by the author Sofia Moro as it is a culmination of her hard work and belief. ICDP and I are fortunate to have been involved from the beginning when she approached me with the initial idea of this book and, as President of ICDP, I wrote a recommendation letter to the BBVA in April 2016, who graciously funded this work. I am also happy to note that this book covers the stories of brave individuals, survivors, places and the brutal impact they have had of capital punishment in the USA, in Japan, in Belarus, in Malawi and in Iran thereby covering all regions of the world. In the chapters, the book highlights those found innocent of the death penalty highlighting the fear that innocent persons face the death penalty and can be executed. And they have been. In the USA, over 160 persons have been found to be innocent over the years, some of whom have faced the death penalty for decades. In Japan, there is the case of a sister fighting for her brother who faced the death penalty for over three decades and a half and finally he has been released. In Belarus, the families are not informed of the execution until it has been carried out and even afterwards they are not informed where they are buried. The death penalty erodes human dignity, it is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and constitutes torture. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (EU) clearly states in its Article N.2 that “No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed,” as it respects the right to life of every person. Interestingly, Article 1 of the Charter states the inviolability of human dignity and that it should be respected and promoted, and Article 3 highlights the Right to Integrity of the Person, including the right not to be tortured.

In ICDP´s experience, political leadership is key to moving a country away from the death penalty. My fellow Commissioners at ICDP –21 in total– are all high-profile personalities including former presidents, prime ministers, government ministers, senior UN officials, a former USA State governor, former judges, several leading legal scholars and academics. They represent all regions of the world, demonstrating that abolition of the death penalty is a global concern and not the cause of a particular region, political system, religion, culture or tradition. The Commission is supported by a geographically diverse group of 19 countries and 3 Observer States who are all committed to the abolition of the death penalty. In the course of our work, we meet or are in touch with leaders of countries that carry out executions and discuss the issue of death penalty and its abolition highlighting the importance of political leadership. ICDP´s Commissioners are well positioned as they have themselves often led abolition of the death penalty in their state or country and internationally, and hence ICDP´s approach has been one of experience-sharing, discussing often quietly about the lack
of deterrence of this punishment, its arbitrary, irreversible and discriminatory nature that affects more those who are marginalized, poor and powerless, with little means to properly defend themselves in court. We still have work to do. At this moment, over 21,900 persons are under sentence of death, and last year over 1,600 executions were carried out by 23 countries.

However, there is hope as 107 States around the world have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. According to the UN, some 160 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it. As this book cries out through its every page, every photograph, the death penalty has no place in today’s world. If there is anything that can and should unite all States, despite their differences, it ought to be the shared understanding that the death penalty is wrong and should no longer be tolerated by the civilized world. No culture or tradition today can justify the official and systematic taking of human life. It is a denial of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life, and it constitutes the most brutal expression of revenge and power by a State. The fundamental right to life is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 70th anniversary we are observing this year, where it clearly states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” It is time we moved away from the death penalty and in this move this book is an important, visually rich voice in building a strong narrative and set of arguments highlighting the human cost and suffering of this punishment and, within this discourse, uncovering true heroes and survivors who, despite being victims of the inhuman system of capital punishment, have fought and shown their courage and human dignity.

Federico Mayor Zaragoza

Honorary President of the International Commission against the Death Penalty (ICDP).

The Cruelty of ‘Deserving to Die’

Two proposals have leapt to the foreground in the recent Mexican general election campaign. The first, an independent candidate, previously a State governor, and one who proposed cutting off the hands of the corrupt and all thieves. Another minority party proposed restoring the death penalty for the most serious crimes, despite it having been constitutionally abolished in 2004 and its restoration no longer possible in accordance with the American Convention of Human Rights. Neither the independent candidate, nor the derisibly named ‘green’ minority party, won a relevant number of votes.

But at times they win everything, as is the case of the president of the Philippines. He promised during the electoral campaign that he would do as President as he had been doing as a city mayor: order his police force to carry out summary executions of all drug traffickers. He has done as much since reaching the presidency, with thousands of assassinations by the police since 2015, a matter which has reached the international Criminal Court.

The atrocious politicians stated that their victims ‘deserved to die’. But it is in reality a morbid compulsion for vengeance and cruelty, the fruits of ignorance and a lack of empathy for the lives of others, an absence of mercy, as Pope Francis would say.

Nobody has reasoned better nor in a more terrifying way than the philosopher Emmanuel Kant on the prisoners sentenced to the death sentence and their ‘deservingness to die’. He did so in the Europe of 1800. But today in a Europe that stretches from Lisbon to Vladivostok, the death penalty has been legally or on a de facto basis abolished. The exception is Bielorrussia, under circumstances that Sofia Moro relates very well.

And the same in the United States, the passion for executing those who ‘deserve to die’ has led to the execution of innocents. In contrast, the new technologies have assisted the exoneration of hundreds of innocent people who were found convicted on death row in American prisons.

The book of the extraordinary photographer and human rights journalist, Sofía Moro, exists as testimony set against the leadership of those who affirm the right to kill those ‘deserving of death’.

Luis Arroyo Zapatero

President of the International Society of Social Defence and Professorial Chair at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Founder of Academics for Abolition.
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